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Athlete’s Lucky Charms

on August 9, 2008

In honor of the 2008 Summer Olympics, I’m reposting an article I wrote about an Athlete’s Lucky Charms. See if you can find any of the Summer Olympic Athletes with their lucky charms or rituals!

The Lucky Charm of an Athlete

Figure skater, Michelle Kwan, always wears a good luck, gold dragon pendant given to her by her grandmother. Other athletes have sworn by lucky socks, t-shirts, and wearing a particular number jersey. Do these rituals work for athletes? Why do athletes engage in good luck charms and superstitions?

Why Rituals?

A ritual mentally prepares athletes for events by allowing the athlete’s mind to quiet down and focus. A ritual can help an athlete deal with the pressure of the “big game” by giving them a sense of consistency. Rituals help athletes know that one event is not more important than another event. For example, you might see a basketball player at a free throw line engaging in a certain routine before throwing the ball. The athlete is replacing any negative thoughts with positive thoughts while relaxing, and minimizing the chance for a missed shot.

Rituals such as good luck charms or wearing the right jersey number usually evolve from an early game or event in an athlete’s career that was won or played well. For example, a college basketball player who wins a championship game might always wear some part of that uniform in future games. Such as basketball legend Michael Jordon always wore his college team shorts beneath his professional uniform.

Rituals and superstitions also give athletes a sense of confidence. For example, Olympic skier, Picabo Street, nicknamed her skis. She won a silver medal in the downhill at the 1994 games on a pair of skies named “Olys,” and once she named her skies, “Willys” because she needed to will herself to victory. She even had a pair of skis named Ah-nolds and believed they would give her the strength of Arnold Schwarzenegger!

Athletes and Their Charms

  • Long track speed skater, Derek Parra, eats a pack of Fig Newtons the night before he races
  • Short track speed-skater, Apolo Ohno, always brings an old t-shirt with “No Pain. No Gain” on the front
  • Snowboarder, Hannah Teter, listens to an Ipod while she rides
  • Olympic moguls skier, Hannah Kearney, wears her hair in two braids adorned with flowers
  • Hockey player, Wayne Gretzky, tucked in the right side of his jersey

So, the next time you watch an athlete perform, you can be pretty sure that somewhere before the big game that athlete has engaged in a ritual or is wearing a good luck charm!

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